The User Experience Team of One Blog

A Research and Design Survival Guide

Posts written by Leah Buley

  • UX Method of the Week: Learning Plan

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    What do you know, what don’t you know, and how are you going to learn it?

    A learning plan sounds like a formal concept, but really it’s just about taking the time to ask yourself where the gaps are in your current understanding of users’ needs and experiences, and how you can fill in that understanding. A surprisingly large number of people claim to practice user-centered design, but fail to ever actually speak with or spend time with users. Don’t be like them. One of the core tenets of a user-centered philosophy is that you respect and learn from your users’ sometimes unpredictable lives. A learning plan is a simple tool that you can use by yourself or with a team to map out what you know and what you need to learn.

    UX Questionnaire

    Try It Out

    1. Start with what you know.
      Set aside 30 minutes or an hour to free-list everything you think you know about your users What are your working assumptions?
    2. Separate certainties from assumptions.
      For each assumption, indicate how confident you are in that assumption. While you do this, look for any questions that can be grouped together and simplified.
    3. Brainstorm research methods.
      Now, for each of your questions, brainstorm how you might go about getting more data or info in this area. Also think about what resources will be required to actually answer these questions (for example, face-to-face time with users, a Web intercept survey, access to server log data, etc.). Note that not all research questions will require direct and immediate access to customers. Some answers can be derived from tools or processes that users touch—for example, call center transcripts, search analytics, and so on. Be creative in thinking about where and how you can gather data to answer your questions.
    4. Plan outputs.
      Finally, for each area that you’d like to research further, think about what form your evidence will take (for example, presenting and distributing new personas).
    What’s the most unlikely place where you’ve uncovered great data about your users?

    Post your reply as a comment below by Tuesday, 11/26, midnight PT. The best reply wins a free copy of The User Experience Team of One.

    UX Method of the Week: Strategy Workshop

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    What is our vision for the ideal user experience, and what do we need to focus on to bring that unique experience to life?

    There is a special moment that’s just right for a strategy workshop, and it’s early in the process before design has been kicked off. It’s the time when optimism and interest in “what could be” are at their highest. This stage gets people when they are most likely to engage with an open mind, and times it so that strategic thinking can influence the ultimate work plan.

    In a strategy workshop, you’re leveraging the collective wisdom of a cross-functional team to begin to establish a vision and a strategy for your user experience. When people talk about strategy, often they’re using the same word to talk about very different concepts. To one person, strategy is about prioritization and having a timeline. To another, it might mean establishing a vision for the future. Neither is wrong, and a strategy workshop can help you get clarity on both.

    A stakeholder workshop can include a hodgepodge of different activities, depending on your needs for that particular project, team, and time. Possible activities include:

    • Triads help you explore the identity of your product, starting with a simple word-listing exercise. For this activity, get the team to brainstorm a list of keywords that they would like the product to embody. Pick three words that you’d put together to describe the core of the product experience. Work with the group to identify combos that are interesting to them. Then, for that particular three-word combo, brainstorm related nouns, verbs, and adjectives that might go with a product built around this triad.
      Triads Example
    • An elevator pitch helps you align around a shared description of your product and what’s special about it. For this activity, you can use a template to create a succinct statement of what distinguishes your product from its competitor or comparator offerings. The elevator pitch can help you understand what differentiates the offering, and hence, which features and characteristics should serve as the defining elements of the product. It can also help you prioritize by shining a light on what matters most in delivering on the core value proposition of the product.

      Elevator Pitch

    What’s YOUR best activity for involving stakeholders in UX vision?

    Post your reply as a comment below by Tuesday, 11/19, midnight PT. The best reply wins a free copy of The User Experience Team of One.

    UX Method of the Week: Opportunity Workshop

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    An opportunity workshop is a way to quickly assess what work needs to be done to improve the user experience, what’s highest priority from a business perspective, and what will have the most impact from a user perspective.

    Use an opportunity workshop when you find yourself having general discussions about the need for an improved user experience, but there is no clear momentum or sense of how to get there.

    Average Time

    3–4 hours total

    • 1 hour to plan and invite people
    • 2 hours to conduct workshop
    • 1 hour to document what you learned and plan the next steps

    Try It Out

    1. Host a work session.
      Block off at least two hours on the calendar and invite together a cross-functional team of people who all work on the product.
    2. State the goals of the work session.
    3. Uncover problem areas.
      Guide the team in a pain storm activity on Post-it notes or index cards, as shown in Figure 5.8. Ask everyone to write down as many things they can think of that are:

      • A problem in the current product
      • A missed opportunity in the current product
      • Just plain important to get right in the product
      • One-by-one, ask people to share their Post-it notes, and put them on the wall where others can see them.
  • Discuss strengths.
    Next, ask the team to write down the product’s strengths—again, one strength per sticky note, as shown in Figure 5.9. It’s useful to follow problem areas with strengths so that the team ends on a positive note, even if the overall discussion may have been constructively critical.
  • Find themes.
    Next, guide the team in an activity to organize the issues that were identified into related groupings. Once some clear groups begin to emerge, ask the team to label each group. Put the label on another sticky note (preferably of a different size or color, so it stands out from the other Post-its) so everyone can easily stand back and see the issues and opportunities as broad themes.
  • Prioritize.
    Now, lead the team in a prioritization exercise. This could just be a discussion. Or, to make it more structured, give everyone a certain number of votes, and ask them to put their votes next to the clusters that they think are most urgent to address, improve, or enhance.
  • Discuss.
    Once the priorities have been clearly identified, lead the group in a discussion about how urgently these should be addressed, and how you’d like to address them.
  • Brainstorm opportunity areas.
    Brainstorm opportunity areas.

    What’s YOUR favorite way to assess how to improve a product’s UX? 

    Post your reply as a comment below by Tuesday, 11/12, midnight PT. The best reply wins a free copy of The User Experience Team of One.

    UX Method of the Week: Project Brief

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    A project brief helps you get aligned on expected outcomes for a user-centered design project.

    Often, when a project is beginning, everyone involved has distinct ideas for what the right outcome looks like. In team discussions, it’s possible for people to express their point of view and think they’re all saying the same thing, but actually have very different ideas of what they expect to see. A project brief states directly what goals or expectations should prevail as the main mandate for the work.

    The brief, as its name suggests, capitalizes on the cardinal virtue of brevity to distinctly and clearly summarize the overall plan for the project: what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, relevant constraints that will drive your work, and what outcomes you expect. Another bonus of the brief is that by being a short description, it’s more likely that people will actually read it. This creates an opp